Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rainforest Pickings #6 - Book Reviews

NEW MG Fiction and Writing Instructions - photo DGH

This month, my reviews will focus on a new book for MG readers and two more writing instruction books that will help you improve your manuscripts.

JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, by Nathan Bransford , well-known blogger; published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, May 2011. MG fiction


Young Jacob Wonderbar, always in trouble at school, gets the offer of a lifetime -- a corndog for a spaceship. Curious, he accepts. He talks his two best friends into going with him on a quick ride around the solar system. The ship blasts off with the three friends inside taking them past all the known planets and beyond. Jacob makes a quick decision which goes awry, when a big planet appears in the path of their spaceship. He breaks the universe instead, and blocks their way back home through the Milky Way. As they attempt to find another way to Earth, the three become separated and entangled in their own adventures. Jacob learns many things about his friends and himself as loyalties are strained.

This action-oriented story will appeal to those MG readers who like science fiction, and the idea of exploring space. The complexities in relationships are seamlessly woven into the story as the three main characters realize that their friends might not be there to cover their back when they expect it.

The art work was an unexpected plus, and stayed true to the character descriptions. With NASA looking at Mars for more understanding of the planets, we may soon be on the verge of a new period of space exploration. Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow will help fuel that interest. Let’s hope that a new generation of science fiction writers will be inspired by reading books like this one. Highly recommended.

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Authors:  Nathan Bransford, and Donald Maass


THE FIRE IN FICTION, (passion, purpose, and techniques To Make Your Novel Great) by Donald Maass, literary agent and author; published in 2009 by Writers Digest Books, an imprint of F&W Publications.  Writing Instructions.

How to put that fire in your story? How to keep those readers turning the pages? This is the book you need. Are you a Storyteller or a Status Seeker? It depends on how you respond to certain questions or comments. In this book, Maass has shown us how to evaluate the various parts of our novel: characters, scenes, world building, voice, believability, and tension so that we can find those turning points, and up that emotional quotient. Understanding and using the ‘fire’ in fiction is what makes one book memorable, and another just ho-hum. The Practical Tools section at the end of each chapter hammers home the highlights and provides a quick reference.

This is a writing instruction book that you’ll refer to often, if only to get the creative juices flowing in the right direction. Chapter 6, ‘Making the Impossible Real’, was one of my favourites since it contains unique advice for upping believability. That’s important for all types of stories, but especially for science fiction. Recommended for all writers.

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WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, by Donald Maass, literary agent and author;  published in 2001 by Writers Digest Books, an imprint of F&W Publications. Foreword by Anne Perry, novelist.  Writing Instructions.

Maass provides writers with the tools and techniques that will make your work stand out from the crowd of other writers. He dissects every facet of the novel writing process using as examples works by authors who have mastered these skills. At the end of each chapter, checklists are provided identifying the main points. From creating stakes in your novel, through plot and structure, and finally to theme and how to pitch, he gives us an inside look at why these ‘breakout books’ become the story everyone wants to read.

The tone of this book makes it an enjoyable read in addition to the wealth of writing tips.  Maass gives us a road map, then encourages us to find our way.  This book was published a few years ago, but continues to provide good value for your money.   Recommended for all writers.

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Any comments?

8 comments:

  1. Yeah, Nathan's book is definitely fun. I even have my name in it! Which, of course, is completely cool.

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  2. Yes, I saw that, Bryan, very nice! At first I thought you meant a character's name and went looking through the book, and found it in Nathan's acknowledgments.

    I think this book will catch on with the kids who are more into science (NASA) than fantasy (H. Potter).

    I also remember seeing your own review when Blogger was eating everything. Did you ever recover it?

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  3. I've read the breakout novel book, but fire in fiction and Nathan's book are on my TBR! Vacation is coming ...

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  4. Susan, glad you found something of value in the book reviews. If you liked the Breakout novel, you'll like Fire in Fiction.

    (Reading Nathan's book was pure escapism).

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  5. I am a person who loves to organize. I find it challenging and fun. I call loading the family van for a trip "real life Tetris" (and I love to play Tetris) with the shifting and fitting together pieces of luggage to get it all in with no gaps. I color code calendars. The list goes on and on. Some of these behaviors don't lead to efficiency, though; they are time sucks. I worry about reading writing books - I fear the activity will be a way to procrastinate actual writing. Responses? Suggestions?

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  6. Jacob Wonderbar sounds like a great way to foster interest in space. As a sci fi lover, I'm all about promoting it. There need to be books close enough to the truth for the younger generation not to get completely lost in the escapism and see space travel as a plausible reality, but fiction enough to make it fun and kindle the imagination - the true fuel of the future.

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  7. J. - you got it, imagination is the fuel of the future. That old 'what if' question. Nathan's book, Jacob Wonderbar, is a great start in firing up those young brains.

    As for your question about writing books and the time suck? I find reading non-fiction books is best done in small doses - so I read perhaps before breakfast while coffee is brewing or while waiting for appointments. I absorb more that way plus I always mark the pages which I may refer to again. Taking online classes is a time suck as well, but both will improve your writing. Start small, it's easier to digest.

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  8. Welcome, Roland, I noticed that a new follower had joined. Hope you enjoy the posts.

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